Betting Guide for UFC 278
The UFC's next road tour stop is a pay-per-view from the Rocky Mountains. It's also a rocky card to find underdogs, so we'll have to get creative this week.
UFC 278: Usman vs. Edwards 2 will take place Saturday from the Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Which MMA bets stand out on FanDuel Sportsbook?
Kamaru Usman and Jared Gordon to Both Win
(-160; 2.0 Units)
This happens every couple of years, but last week's two-legger was voided on Youseff Zalal's draw. We'll rerack at 15-8 for the year this week.
The problem with dominant champions like Kamaru Usman (-400) and Alexander Volkanovski is they don't get a proper test. Usman faces Leon Edwards, who is much more just "next" than "most deserving."
Edwards averages only 2.62 significant strikes per minute on 49% accuracy -- lower than Usman in both respects. While Kamaru has been fighting Gilbert Burns and Colby Covington for this belt, Edwards has just one completed result since the beginning of 2020, and it was a squash match against Nate Diaz -- not a ranked fighter -- where he was a -420 favorite.
Leon has been choosy of his opponents during this 10-fight unbeaten streak, but it's led to a rematch of his 2015 loss to Usman. Usman scored six takedowns then, and that's probably the ugliest way this fight progresses. Analytically, Usman's also a better striker, though, so don't underestimate the champ on the feet here.
Pairing "The Nigerian Nightmare" was a tough choice, but Jared Gordon (-340) seems to be in the next-best spot relative to his odds.
Gordon lost to lightweight sensation Grant Dawson last time out, ending his three-fight winning streak. He still outstruck Dawson by 23 significant strikes, but Dawson's physicality and wrestling (six takedowns) were too much. In what appears a gift from UFC brass, he'll draw 42-year-old Leonardo Santos this weekend.
Santos' cardiovascular endurance has waned considerably. Even with successful starts against Dawson and Clay Guida in his last fight, he fatigued and was finished later in the fight. Gordon's offense can be exhausting whether he's striking (5.72 significant strikes landed per minute) or wrestling (2.22 takedowns per 15 minutes).
This pair of matchups stand out at their odds considering the similar win equity to Miranda Maverick (-530), who I don't mind tossing into this parlay at shorter odds.
Jose Aldo to Win (-102; 1.0 Units)
When a stylistic clash is forecasted, look at the level of competition to determine how successful one fighter -- or the other -- can be.
There's no one in UFC with a better strength of schedule than Jose Aldo (-102). The 35-year-old has earned and defended a 145-pound championship, and he fought Petr Yan for the 135-pound belt in 2020. He's fought killer after killer throughout his career.
With that said, his 90% takedown defense has been tested. Even in his last fight, he stuffed four of Rob Font's five takedown attempts, and the successful one wasn't very successful at holding "Junior" down. Aldo racked up 9:06 of control time in the fight to Font's 2:08.
That's why I think Aldo will have success against "The Machine" this weekend. Merab Dvalishvili practices high-motor wrestling to its core (7.30 takedowns per 15 minutes), but he could run into a brick wall in that department against Aldo.
It would be the second time that's happened to Merab. John Dodson stuffed 18 of Merab's 20 takedown attempts, and it led to a sloppy, ugly fight where Dvalishvili eeked out a decision. The now-cut Dodson was never as gifted on the feet as Aldo, though.
Between Aldo's ability to reverse positions into his own control time and Merab's significant step up in terms of competition here, I side with the former champion as a slight 'dog in what is easily the best fight on the main card.
Paulo Costa to Win by KO/TKO (-160; 1.0 Units)
My model loves Luke Rockhold this week, but I've seen too many sad exits from icons of this sport to listen to it.
Rockhold returns at 37 years old this week. The former champ hasn't fought since 2019, and he's only fought twice in the last five years. Both were knockout losses. He says he's returning for a title shot, but it'll take way more than a win over Paulo Costa (-340) to get one.
In a fight between two strikers, my model loves Rockhold's edge in overall striking success rate (+1.75) over Costa's (-0.17). I love efficiency as much as anyone, but this is really just a handicap of durability.
Costa is a tank. He's allowed only 2 knockdowns in 494 significant strikes absorbed. Rockhold has been knocked down twice in his last 32 strikes absorbed. At 37, that ability to eat damage doesn't get better.
It would be one thing if Costa wasn't offensively gifted, but he is. He's put out 6.85 significant strikes on tremendous 59% accuracy, and that's terrifying when he's also not afraid of the strikes in return despite a below-average striking defense (48%).
I'll also sprinkle Costa by KO/TKO in Round 1 (+220) due to the Brazilian holding zero career submission attempts. He'll be punching to end this one if he's in a position to do so.
Dart Throw of the Week:
Luis Saldana by Decision (+600; 0.25 Units)
UFC 278 features 8 of the 12 favorites positioned with -200 odds or shorter. It's not a week where 'dogs are barking.
Yet, as always in this sport, we'll see an upset. I think I'll roll the dice with Luis Saldana (+255) in a fight where he should be more competitive than these odds indicate.
I understand the odds being where they are because this is a matchup of strikers, and Sean Woodson is such a talented boxer. Woodson's landed 5.99 significant strikes per minute on 44% accuracy, and he's got a +1.99 striking success rate.
Don't discount Saldana, though. He's landed 4.92 significant strikes on 50% accuracy with a +1.62 success rate. He's also got a higher striking defense (62%) than Woodson (59%).
Importantly, Saldana added two takedowns in his last fight. That's where Woodson's only UFC loss came; he was taken down thrice and submitted by Julian Erosa.
At the end of the day, Woodson's run in UFC has been more sizzle than substance. His long, rangy style is fun, but his three wins have also come against competition with a combined 5-10-1 UFC record.
Saldana is a capable striker with plenty of experience, and his striking peripherals indicate he can overcome a five-inch reach deficit and win what should be a great fight.